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Seattle Times: Enter the Gunmen: 'X' marks the spot

Seattle Times
Enter the Gunmen: ‘X’ marks the spot
Allan Johnson

Writer/producer Chris Carter says he won’t hold a gun to Fox’s head if the network wants another season of “The X-Files,” even if it mistreats his new series, “The Lone Gunmen.”

But with visions of “Harsh Realm,” his previous series for Fox, still dancing in his head, Carter does want a little respect.

“The Lone Gunmen,” the promising action-comedy spinoff of Carter’s “The X-Files,” is about the three nerdy conspiracy theorists/computer hackers who provide the paranormal-investigating FBI agents with research and information from time to time. It settles in the 9 p.m. Sunday “X-Files” slot beginning this weekend (on KCPQ-TV) before moving to its 9 p.m. Friday slot on March 16.

Recent interviews with Carter have painted a dark picture for fans of “The X-Files.” He has indicated one of the determining factors for producing a ninth season would be how well Fox protects “Gunmen.”

That’s because Carter thinks Fox didn’t do enough for “Harsh Realm,” a virtual reality-themed 1999 action drama that only lasted three episodes before it was canceled.

“X” is on a high

“The X-Files” is doing well, both creatively, with the invigorating addition of Robert Patrick as the new partner of FBI agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), and in the ratings, hitting its highest viewership in more than a year last Sunday. Both elements bode well for a ninth season.

Carter, who doesn’t have a contract to remain with “X-Files” after this season, chooses his words carefully when talking about whether or not his return hinges on Fox’s treatment of “Gunmen.”

“I’m not holding that out there as a negotiation tactic per se,” Carter says. “It’s simply that as we speak right now, we’ve got the most popular show on Fox. We’re working our (tails) off, not just to keep that show good and fresh, but to do this new show. We just want to be given the chance and respect it deserves.

“And as with the case of “Harsh Realm,’ ” Carter adds, “it never had that opportunity. So we want to make sure that our hard work is respected and rewarded. And that’s really what that’s about, because there’s no sense in being involved in a partnership that doesn’t work two ways.”

Carter is heartened by Fox’s actions thus far. The network has constantly promoted “Gunmen’s” debut. Fox is allowing “X-Files” to take a break to allow “Gunmen” a chance for a decent sampling on the next three Sundays. Also, the series will air twice in one weekend, on March 16 in its Friday spot and on March 18, its last Sunday appearance.

” “Harsh Realm’ is now looking like it was the anomaly,” says Carter, 44. “They are getting in there and they are supporting “The Lone Gunmen.’ It’s just that continued support is what you need, because a TV series is a series; it’s not a movie. There’s many episodes, and you have to hang in there with something that you know is coming from people who can produce quality programming.”

A quirky comedy

While not in the same league as the moodier “X-Files,” “Gunmen,” a comic “Mission: Impossible” with the guys going to great lengths to investigate conspiracies, still has elements that could make it a quirky little winner.

Fans of “The X-Files” know the computer-hacking trio of straight-laced, dedicated John Byers (Bruce Harwood), cynical, pugnacious Melvin Frohike (Tom Braidwood) and long-haired techno whiz Richard “Ringo” Langly (Dean Haglund). The three publish a newspaper that exposes perceived government and corporate shenanigans.

They were always more for comic effect on “X-Files.” In their own series, they get to strut their amusing mix of sarcastic one-liners and bumbling ineptitude in an effort to, as Byers says in the premiere, “expose those that will destroy that (American) dream” and “write the stories that they don’t want you to read. …

“That’s why I teamed up with you guys. You’re true believers.”

Cracks Frohike: “I thought it was for the chick throw-off.”

“They’re obviously throwbacks to the ’60s, certainly Frohike,” Carter says. “They are sort of cynical idealists who believe in sort of mom and apple pie and truth, justice and the American way. So they really are kind of geek patriots who believe in a better America.”

“If you pimply pencil-necks are the only hope for the American people, God help us all,” says Yves Adele Harlow (Zuleikha Robinson), a rival who spars with the Gunmen.

Harlow and goofy Jimmy Bond (Stephen Snedden), who becomes the deep pockets for the Lone Gunmen newspaper, seem to be nods to viewers who are used to seeing beautiful people on TV – which the Gunmen are not.

While the mysterious Harlow makes a fine foil for the trio, Bond, with his annoying gee-whiz enthusiasm, is an intrusion. The boys can stand on their own. The series, with episode openings that spoof “The Matrix” and “Mission: Impossible,” has the same sophisticated sheen as “The X-Files.” It even has the same cloudy and gray look of that series in its early years, due to its shooting in Vancouver, B.C., where “Gunmen” is filmed and where “X-Files” filmed before moving to California a few years ago.

While played for laughs with broad physical humor (Frohike is the prime target of the pratfalls), it will be interesting to see just how many conspiracy-laced plots Carter can come up with, and whether Fox will be patient with “Gunmen” when it finally lands on Friday nights.

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